If the appointment of bishops is where the Papal rubber meets the road, Pope Francis is continuing where Pope Benedict left off. The changing face of the California Episcopacy continues. On Friday, May 3 at noon Rome time, the Holy Father named Father Michael Barber, SJ as the new bishop of the diocese of Oakland. The see had been vacant since the appointment of Salvatore Cordileone as archbishop of the archdiocese of San Francisco in October of 2012. Father Barber will take the reins from Archbishop Alex Brunett, the archbishop emeritus of Seattle, who had been serving as the apostolic administrator until the bishop’s chair was filled.
Father Barber currently serves spiritual director at St. John’s seminary in Boston. He grew up in San Francisco and Sacramento. He studied philosophy at Gonzaga University in Spokane, and theology at Regis College, University of Toronto. He was ordained in 1985 and spent two years of missionary work in Western Samoa, Polynesia. He was then sent to the Gregorian University in Rome to study and teach dogmatic theology. Father Barber’s research centered on the unpublished sermon manuscripts of Blessed John Henry (Cardinal) Newman. Father Barber’s interest in the Blessed Cardinal Newman is ongoing.
In 2010, Father Barber, joined by Franciscan University of Steubenville president Father Terrence Henry, served as spiritual director to a group of American pilgrims journeying to England for the beatification of Cardinal Newman. The pilgrimage was sponsored by the Cardinal Newman Society. Father Barber served at Oxford University as a research fellow at Campion Hall, the Jesuit college at Oxford. He subsequently was elected bursar and tutor in theology there.
Father Barber was appointed by Archbishop (now Cardinal) William Levada as director of the School of Pastoral Leadership in the archdiocese of San Francisco, followed by eight years as director of spiritual formation and assistant professor of theology at St. Patrick’s Seminary in Menlo Park, California. Father Barber served as a military chaplain. He was commissioned in 1991 as an officer in the U.S. Navy Reserve, and currently holds the rank of Commander. He was called up for the invasion of Iraq in 2003 as Catholic chaplain to the 6,000 Marines in the 4th Marine Air Wing.
As a chaplain to Legatus, the association of Catholic business leaders, gave a 2009 interview with Legatus magazine and did not sound like a mainstream California Jesuit:
“With the military you get a direct cross-section of America — a lot of the young people who wouldn’t have the tuition money to go to a Jesuit school. I like that. It’s a little more rough-and-tumble than you would encounter in a refined schoolroom atmosphere. You also meet many unchurched kids. I am their chaplain whether they like it or not. I go around the whole ship to all the Marines in the whole unit. I speak to them about moral issues or give them briefs about religious culture. I’ve also made friends with chaplains from other faiths. I’ve known one for 18 years, and I’m like an uncle to his kids. I would never be that close to a Southern Baptist in normal life.”